THE (Indescribable) PERFECT PUNCH

7 Nov
In an article dated July 19, 2010, entitled Practice does NOT make perfect, I explored the maxim that perfect practice makes perfect. That maxim was derived from oral tradition in our Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo. Related to the maxim is the tale of the “Perfect Punch.“ The tale concerns a Karate Master that espoused his goal of training in Karate-Do as seeking to develop the perfect punch. (See Endnote # 1). I first heard this tale as a teenage young purple belt. Upon hearing the tale, myself and the rest of the class nodded our heads knowingly. We acknowledged the idea that here was a great Karate master, who devoted his life to the art. After decades of devotion, he desired to perfect that which a lowly white belt was first taught – a simple punch.
It is easy to extend the tale of the perfect punch to many of life’s pursuits. One may envision the perfect fly fishing cast, the perfect dart throw, the perfect yoga pose, perfect free throw in basketball, etcetera, ad infinitum.
Now, decades after I first knowingly nod my head, I find my head shaking almost side-to-side as I wonder, “What was this infamous Karate Master talking about?“ It can certainly be argued that the beauty and magnificence of the statement is its simplicity, to wit: a perfect punch. After reflecting upon the statement all these years, I now maintain that the simplicity of the statement is also its downfall.
By understanding the manner in which the tale of the perfect-punch is inadequate in terms of conveying a full expression of an aim of Karate-Do, we can understand how the quest for perfection within life’s pursuits may also lack definition. This is not to say that we should not desire to improve or perfect that which we practice, or even in fact, the type of person we may be. It is to say that such desire must be clearly defined. To understand this point, we must examine the tale of the (indescribable) perfect-punch.
Our analysis must start with the fundamental definition of a punch. The dictionary definition of punch is, in essence; a blow delivered with the hand or fist. Clearly, the definition itself is broad. In fact, when one understands the fundamentals of Karate-Do, one appreciates that there are several types of a blow with the hand, or a punch. There are, inter alia, a full horizontal punch, a vertical punch, an upper cut, a one knuckle punch, a shuto (side hand strike), ura-ken (back fist), ridge hand strike, palm heel strike, and the list goes on. So the first ambiguity contained in the tale of the perfect punch lies in the fact that the punch sought to be perfected lacks definition. Not only is this the first ambiguity, it is also the most fundamental.

The fundamental ambiguity of the tale lies in its failure to define not the mechanics of the punch, but in its failure to adequately define the function of the punch to be perfected. The core question, which is not addressed in the tale, is “What type of punch is to be perfected?“ To illustrate, I proffer the following punches conceived in the recesses of my mind.


The Perfect –

Technical punch. This punch conforms to the technical standards of a given style or system of martial art as objectively judged by a third person who is capable of evaluating such technical criteria;

Aesthetic punch. This punch is one that is appeals to the artistic sense of a third person observer regardless of the observer’s technical knowledge of the punch;

Practical punch. This punch can be utterly devoid of either technique or aesthetics however, when utilizes against an aggressive opponent. It dispatches the opponent so that the one executing the punch is safely outside of harm’s way.

Archetype punch. Unlike the previous punches which are objectively determined, this punch may or may not meet the criteria established by such third person observer; however, subjectively, this punch is the model punch in the mind of the puncher;

Spiritual punch. Similar to the Archetype punch, this punch need not meet the standards of technical accuracy or aesthetics, it is simply a punch that is pleasing on a subjective level;

Satori punch. This punch satisfies all objective and subjective criteria. It is the ultimate punch that once executed is lost and may not be capable of duplication.

Ku punch. Named for the stage in martial arts learning where all is simultaneously known and unknown. This punch is the physical realization of the satori punch that upon execution is cast into the realm of conceptual reality.

I trust that after reviewing and considering the above conceptual punches, you can understand that the tale of the perfect punch lacks substance. I submit that the tale, as told in oral tradition, should be entitled the riddle of the perfect punch. I know from years of martial training that the best punch is the one that is never executed. It is the punch that, as Karate master Chotoku Kyan, would say, “remains within the sleeve.” (See Endnote # 2).

Chotoku Kyan (1870 – (1945)

The best punch defeats an opponent without ever manifesting itself. I also understand that, unless clearly defined, the perfection of “A” punch is utterly impossible.

In closing I remain, no longer seeking perfection, but seeking definition and clarity, I remain,




Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

1. The tale of the Perfect Punch is highly steeped in oral tradition and history. The statement within the tale was attributed within the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo to the late Isshin-Ryu Karate master Tatsuo Shimaboku. I have often attempted to find the tale in literary references. Here is one such reference Furuya, Kensho, KODO: Ancient Ways (O’Hara Publications, Santa Clarita, CA, 1996) p. 74.
2. The following saying is attributed to the Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu Karate master Chotoku Kyan. “A punch is like a treasure in the sleeve. It should not be used indiscriminately.”
For more on either Sanchin Kata as meditation or my new book on Sanchin Kata, please feel free to visit the “Sanchin Book” page of this weblog, or my website WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com.



You may wish to view my weblog dedicated to fly-fishing by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Wordpress.Com.

2 Responses to “THE (Indescribable) PERFECT PUNCH”

  1. senseijohn November 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Thank-you for your compliment. Please feel free to check back often. I usually post a new article every two weeks. – Sensei John.

  2. Fikret Tüfekçi November 8, 2010 at 6:51 am #

    Very nice blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: